Canada May Fight Those Who Boycott Israel With Hate Crime Laws

Ottawa's laws against hate speech include attacks based on national origin.

Steven Blaney
Steven Blaney, Canada's public safety minister, speaking against BDS to UN General Assembly, January 22, 2015.

In line with being the most enthusiastically pro-Israel government in the world, Ottawa is now bidding to become the world's most anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) government, too, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported Monday.

Following a series of statements by cabinet ministers pledging vigilance against the country's many pro-BDS groups (mainly aligned with churches, universities and unions), the spokeswoman for Canada's chief law enforcement official pointed out to CBC recently that the country has some of the toughest laws against "hate crime" on earth.

It was the latest statement from the government promising a crackdown on the BDS movement, which includes university groups, churches and labor unions.

In January, then-foreign minister John Baird signed a protocol with Israel pledging to fight BDS, which he called "the new face of anti-Semitism." Shortly afterward, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, in an address at the United Nations, characterized boycotts of Israel as anti-Semitic hate speech and violence, comparing them to the murderous attacks at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket that had just taken place. Blaney said Canada would take a policy of "zero tolerance" toward the BDS movement, a statement that has been echoed by other cabinet ministers.

Last year the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper expanded the law against hate speech to include attacks based on a person's "national origin," not just his race or religion, as the law had previously stated.

In response to CBC's questions about what Blaney had meant by "zero tolerance" for BDS, Josee Sirois, a spokeswoman for Blaney, replied, "I can tell you that Canada has one of the most comprehensive sets of laws against hate crime anywhere in the world."

She noted the prohibitions on "hate propaganda" in Canadian law, pointing out that they now cover rhetoric against people based on their "national origin," and that judges were entitled to weigh such acts against a defendant when passing sentence.

"We will not allow hate crimes to undermine our way of life, which is based on diversity and inclusion," Sirois stated.

Churches, university groups, unions

BDS supporters in Canada include the United Church of Canada, Canadian Quakers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), various university groups and Independent Jewish Voices, which is the chief organizer of pro-BDS activity in Canada.

Michael Vonn, an attorney for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, said attempts to prosecute Canadians for supporting BDS would not survive a court challenge. He described the government's moves as "a tool to go after critics of Israel."

CUPE president Paul Moist wondered, "Is it now a criminal offence to walk around with a sign saying close all the settlements, Israel out of occupied territories?"

As things stand, the most anti-BDS country in the world appears to be, believe it or not, France. The so-called left-wing, pro-Palestinian country has convicted upwards of 20 BDS activists for "discrimination" based on "national origin." Pro-Israel activists are pushing for a similar policy in Belgium. But from the tone of its government officials, Canada aims to become leader of the pack.